Monday, December 17, 2007

My At-Home Cubicle

Oh, the joys of the last day before a vacation!

I worked from my mom's house in San Diego today, awaiting a plane trip out of Lindbergh Field tomorrow, and the view of a lawn and blue sky from her kitchen table are decidedly more enjoyable a view than polyester gray cube walls.
Even better than the view is the opportunity to put an oven range to use instead of the office microwave come lunchtime. One of the great aspects of SD's food scene is there numerous health food grocers. My perennial favorite is Henry's for its farm-style produce (as opposed to the test tube stuff of the supermarkets or the gilded produce of Whole Foods), and organic meat. The butcher counter produces top-notch sausages, and we picked up their chicken basil variety. They are plump, juicy, un-greasy, and perfectly seasoned.

I sauteed them until the skin had a crispy finished, then removed them from the pan and tossed in leftover mashed potatoes so they soaked up the juice, and got a little smokey flavor.

Call it a Californian bangers and mash. To cut the fat and leave a clean finish on the palate, my beverage of choice was a bottle of DRY rhubarb soda.

The home office has its advantages.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Cubicle Christmas

For an office that had a contest at Halloween to see who could devise the most fiendish cubicle decor, there has been surprisingly little Christmas effort put forward amid the third floor prairie dog farm this month.

But in my cubicle, the internet radio is tuned to all-day Christmas tunes, and the lights blaze for all to see. I've wrapped a couple strings up the posts at the back of my cube that carry the power and ethernet cables, hoping it would inspire a little Christmas cheer amongst my work-weary co-laborers. While compliments have been many, I have yet to see any trees, garlands, or nativity scenes spring up elsewhere. Granted there was one person who did her whole cube in wrapping paper before I got my decorations up, but that's immaterial to my ranting.

What the office lacks in decorating spirit, they've more than made up for in seasonal sweets. Every day there are bonbons, chocolates, cookies, candy, and all other manner of winter-coat inducing goodies. The baker in my group brought in a plate of assorted red and green chocolate cupcakes with lush cream cheese frosting. It's red velvet and green ... moss?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

My Happiest Day

I haven't posted in a long, long time. But, hey, it's not like November is a big eating month, right? No big food-preparation events in that month, no sir.

Kidding aside, I was on a restricted diet of only liquefied foods for a month (A MONTH!!) due to a jaw issue I've been having. It turns out that eating all day, every day, can give you an arthritic jaw. It is the carpal tunnel syndrome of food lovers. It is a potentially life-altering diagnosis. It is a plague that has unseated kings from their thrones, caused the downfall of the American textile industry, extinguished suns, and dashed the hopes of world-famous sports stars like my hero, Takeru Kobayashi.

Needless to say, you fine readers wouldn't have been too interested reading about the instant Cream of Wheat and smoothies I've been living off of.

However, I'm back in the saddle, and so hungry I could eat the horse out from under it. The doctor has given me the go-ahead to eat foods fit for the above-toddler age range.

Imagine my joy when rumor of brownies in the kitchen started floating around the office a few minutes ago. I was more than ready to sink my teeth into some chewy, fudgey, cocoa heaven. Where I had been expecting a small plate or tin of someone's homemade confections, there was a ginormous gift basket full of brownies, chocolate chip cookies, white chocolate chip cookies, and peanut butter cookies ... and a hundred employees swarming around the basket like bees about a hive.

Where did it all come from? Who cares? My belief is that there are food gnomes hiding in the walls, looking out for us all ... or fattening us up to be eaten. Whatever.

I managed to snap this shot after the carnage passed, and there were only a handful of cookies left. But I got my brownie. I'm back and ready to eat.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

My Ancho Butternut Squash Soup

This butternut squash soup recipe arose largely from one of my many aimless meanderings through the grocery store. I generally grab the first vegetable that looks good, and build a meal around it.

It turned out to be a perfect fall recipe, as well as a perfect soft food for this insane diet my doctor put me on to help heal my TMJ. I just try not to think of it as adult baby food. Ancho chili paste adds a wonderful smokiness to the soup, and just a little bit of spice to accent the squash's sweetnesss.

The benefit of buzzing down a soup into a smooth consistency is that you can include a bunch of vegetables besides the ones creating the main flavors of the dish. I added fresh green beans and tofu, and couldn't tell the difference. You could even add spinach or kale for some extra vitamins.

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
  • 2 yellow potatoes, cut into 1" cubes
  • 4 carrots, cut into 1/4" cubes
  • 1/3 of a sweet yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 head fennel or anise, sliced thinly
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 large tomatoes, diced
  • 3 cups roughly chopped green beans
  • 1 package silken tofu, cut into
  • 4 vegetable bullion cubes
  • 1 can vegetable broth
  • 4 dried ancho chilies, stems pulled off
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • optional garnish, crumbled Gorgonzolla
  1. Heat the oil in a large stock pot. When it starts to glisten, add fennel, onion, and garlic. Cook until onions start to turn translucent. Be careful not to let garlic burn or brown. About five minutes.
  2. Add 1/3 of the can of vegetable broth to deglaze the bottom of the pot and stir to incorporate any caramelized bits.
  3. Stir in tomatoes and let them cook down. About eight minutes.
  4. Add squash, carrots, potatoes, broth, and bullion. Pour in water until it comes to an inch from the top of the vegetables. The amount of water will depend on how much juicy the tomatoes are.
  5. Bring to a boil, stirring lower vegetables to the top of the pot occasionally. Let cook for 30-40 minutes, or until carrots and squash are very soft.
  6. While vegetables are boiling, microwave the 1 1/2 cups water in a wide bowl for two minutes. Set the chili pods in the bowl for about 10 minutes, until reconstituted.
  7. Buzz chili pods and water in a blender or food processor until they become a paste.
  8. When vegetables are soft, transfer contents of the pot into a blender or food processor, and buzz down to a smooth conistency. Add a little of the sour cream and tofu to each batch so they don't cool down the soup too much.
  9. Serve immediately with garlic bread or crumbled Gorgonzola as a garnish.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

My Tandoori Find

No idea where it came from, but it saved me from having to make a sandwich again today. Once again the food gnomes have left lunch out for me on the kitchen counter. Indian today.

I swear, sometimes it's like the ghost of my still-alive mother is protecting me from before the grave.

Tandoori chicken (spicy yum), basmati rice (eh), dahl soup (smooth yum), saag paneer (ick)

Again, no idea where it did come from but I'll take the chance to promote a great Indian spot nearby that has been fantastic every time we've been there: Lal Mirch.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

My Catch Up (hold the ketchup and catsup)

Heh. Uh ... hi.

You may not remember me. I'm the blogger who writes My Cubicle Lunch.

I've been really busy lately. No, really. I've had lots of work, and classes, and dance parties, and season 5 of Smallville on DVD. It's just so much!

I just kind of haven't been ... blogging. But I have been photographing what I've made and/or reheated!

So here it is, folks, my list of recent cubicle meals for your mild voyeuristic amusement:

My Southwest Bean and Basil Salad

  • 3 cups fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup fresh Santa Monica Farmers (SMF) Market basil
  • 1/2 cup fresh SMF green beans (they're really sweet when fresh), broken in halves or chopped
  • 1/4 cup black beans
  • 1/4 cup sliced red grapes
  • parmesan or cotija cheese to taste
  • crumbled tostaditas for texture, and to make the neat little spire on top
My Basil-Tofu Open Faced Sandwich

  • 2 slices oat bread (lots of fiber, with a little sweetness)
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon whole-seed dijon mustard (great texture)
  • 1 small vine-ripened tomato
  • 1/3 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup fresh SMF basil (yeah, still trying to use it up)
  • 1 patty firm tofu, drained and sliced horizontally
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced
  • 1/8 cup black beans
  • pickle slices to garnish
My Doctored-Up Pad Thai Leftovers

From Original Thai. I just microwaved and added some un-cooked, sliced zucchini to get more veggies in it. I also like the crisp contrast of texture it adds.

My Empty Pockets

Broke, out of money, destitute, hungry. At least I have a few slices of bread and a jar of peanut butter left in my desk's nether realms. Also, I get to take the new plate I bought over the weekend for a test lunch.

Please use non-disposable plates, cups and silverware at work. What you save in plastic and paper could be the earth's future.

(*step down from soapbox*)

My Paycheck Hasn't Gotten Here Yet

Another day of peanut butter toast for lunch, but at least I dressed it up with apricot preserves and banana slices. If I could only fry it, Elvis would be proud.

Thankfully, my coworker ordered too much at lunch (or saw me losing weight), and brought me her Original Thai salad role. She's such a good friend, I don't have the heart to tell her that I don't think these things are all that. But beggars and choosers, etc.

My Fatty Payback for a Month of Healthful Eating

1 carne asada burrito with a ginormous horchata (no ice -- it's a waste of valuable horchata space)

I've been craving a good burrito all week. This was not it. Casita Taco al Carbon may be a convenient taco shop for my office, but it's far from a great one. The meat was mediocre and laced with too much un-chewable gristle, the tortilla was certainly not made on the premises, the rice and beans did not run consistently through the length of the burrito, and the cardinal sin of all: the salsa sucks (though their verde is pretty decent). The horchata is pretty rockin', though. It's a bummer about their salsa, because their chips are always great. However, it's the fountain variety, which is hard to mess up. I will say that the burrito was far from bad, but it's just not up to the quality that is so easy to find in most San Diegan establishments.

While musing over the differences between my beloved San Diego's Mexican food and what I am so often disappointed by in LA, I found what is possibly the coolest food-related website EVER ESTABLISHED (besides MyCubicleLunch). It's user-generated Burritophile, a guide to the nation's best and worst in the tightly wrapped world of burrito joints. They cover most of the great spots in San Diego and LA, as well as the far reaches of Mexican cuisine's influence, like Wisconson. My only complaint is that some people are far too generous in their ratings. Case in point.

Friday, September 21, 2007

My Law of Kitchen Scavenging

The first law of office kitchens is that any catered food left on the counter is up for grabs for anyone who comes by. You just have to leave a little for those who come after you

(a) unless there is such a small amount left that it makes no sense to split
(b) unless it's late enough in the evening that most people have gone home

For natural-born scavengers like myself, this is one of the few benefits of working in a hive environment.

Today's freebie (and the best one in quite a while): California Pizza Kitchen.

On the menu, and on my plate, is the following:

  • shrimp summer roll (SOOOOOoooo fishy -- urp)
  • rigatoni in marinara (barely passable)
  • taco pizza (better in concept than in practice)
  • coleslaw (very fresh -- I don't usually do coleslaw, but ... it was FREE!)
  • Caesar salad (unremarkable, but the croutons had rye seeds -- yum!)
  • Asian chicken salad (a meal unto itself, and surprisingly good)

I wouldn't go to CPK with my own money when there are so many other unique spots in LA, but still, they didn't do too badly.

The great thing about the Asian salad is they laced it with chopped basil.

Take it from someone who's had basil ice cream and basil cocktails: Basil makes everything good.

My Inadvertently Chocolate Milk

Just because you're not paranoid, doesn't mean they really aren't out to get you. There's something inherently evil about my office. I've already had my motorcycle pushed over in the parking garage, gotten my milk stolen, and had my favorite plate stolen.

And now someone is actually putting things into my food!

When I was pouring the milk I keep in our communal fridge into my bowl of cereal this morning, I thought it looked a little dark. Seeing as it's under a week old, I chalked it up to the bad fluorescent lights in the kitchen, and happily munched away on breakfast at my computer.

Not much later, a devilish temptress e-mailed the department to say that she had brought in Krispy Kremes. Despite the overt rebellion my stomach always throws when I eat a donut, I had to indulge in a glazed sour cream ring. In order to preempt the upset tummy I went to pour myself more milk.

This time, with no cereal and bananas to obscure the view, I was certain that my milk was not only darker than it should be; it was actually BROWN. A faint brown to be sure, but still, not the bluish-white pallor that typifies nonfat. A smell test returned a surprising result. Instead of the sour stench of rotting lactose I expected, there was the slight but unmistakable smell of ... chocolate.

Someone has added chocolate mix to my carton of milk.

But who? Why? It wasn't like this yesterday, so the when is sometime since yesterday's breakfast.

Is this a malevolent act, or someone trying to sweeten my day? It could be a goodhearted practical joke, or someone hoping I have a chocolate allergy. It might also not even be chocolate ... maybe poison. Or worse: laxatives.

Upon inspection, my coworker advised that I write off the milk as a loss and dump it. But there was still the question in my mind as to why?

Also, there was the donut.

So, did I drink it? Well, I can't have a donut without milk.

Come on. I don't think I've done anything to anyone here (that's absurdly terrible) to deserve poisoning.

What's the worst that can happen?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

My Salmonella Lunch

--- NEWS FLASH ---

A former US Naval midshipman who would only give his name as "Popeye" was rushed to an area hospital this morning with symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea. Doctors say the veteran is stable, but suffering from a nasty combination of salmonella and e. coli infection. Officials at the CDC quickly traced the vector of his illness to contaminated bagged spinach.

The sailor man was barely coherent during an interview, but blames someone named "Bluto" for poisoning him under pretense of inviting him over for a spinach omelet breakfast. A police spokesman said they cannot comment on whether an investigation is underway, though she did say that several cans of spinach were hidden on Popeye's person upon arrival to the emergency room.

A gangly female "family friend" read this statement on behalf of Popeye.

    I asks for prayer during this difficult time in me life. I wasn't strong to the finish, but I'll be back on me boat soon. Then I'm gonna find Bluto and show that big palooka what's what. Also, Wimpie, if you're listening, it's past Tuesday ... you owe me for that hamburger, and I'm coming to collect. Eh, ge, ge, ge, ge, ge, ge.


In honor of this poor, brave soul -- and in spite of the bagged spinach scare -- I made myself a salad for lunch with the spinach I always keep in the office fridge.

Spinach Basil Salad

  • 2 cups hand-shredded spinach (or whole baby spinach)
  • 1/3 cup fresh shredded basil
  • 3 tablespoons crumbled feta
  • 4 tablespoons hummus
  • Optional: dried cranberries for garnish
On hot days like we've had lately, this was a light, refreshing afternoon filler. Actually, filler is a bit of a misnomer. I had to make myself a couple plates in a row to feel full, but the hummus gives the recipe some heft, while simultaneously providing moisture and acting as a bonding agent so I don't need dressing. Sadly, I ran out of dried cranberries in my desk larder, and was forced to use dried blueberries.

It's just not the same.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My Day of Rabbit Food

I was in the mood for vegetarian goodies today. A coworker had to run into Burbank on an errand and offered to bring back some food from her favorite Chinese place, Joy Feast. Apparently, my last paycheck writer lists it as the best in class.

I proceeded on said coworker's opinion that the veggie dumplings are top notch, and ordered such.

I hesitate to base my opinion of a restaurant on one rapidly cooling dish driven half way across town, but this was pretty pathetic. When I, of all people, have a hard time finishing a dish, you know it isn't all that. The fillings were pretty sparse: cabbage, ginger, and carrot. The wrapping was too thick, which combined with its doughiness made for a chewy, gummy workout for my already TMJ-ridden jaw.

I will withhold judgment of the Joy Feast as a whole until I revisit (though I'm not in any particular hurry to go back).

Thankfully, my palate was refreshed thanks to another coworker who brought in tomatoes from her lush Pasadena garden. They were perfect, and I spent most of the day sniffing them for pleasure. Dare I say apple-style-eating-worthy? With juice dribbling down my chin, I say most certainly yes!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Ransomers' Demands

The ransomers have made their demands with a final note left in a manila envelope taped to the office fridge. The envelope was addressed to me, so I can now assume that the milk's abduction was not a random crime ... the perpetrators know me.

The list of demands specify delivery of four different payments to various people. And the people are named! However, I cannot assume that these are the responsible parties -- they may be red herrings. Fingerprint and DNA analysis are as yet inconclusive.

Until proven guilty, I have blocked out the names from the accompanying photograph and this copy of their list:

    our demands
    1 flower to Mrs. ______
    1 Heart record to Ms. ______
    1 vegan friendly snack to Mr. _____
    1 MP3 to Mr. _____ to his liking

    all demands must be met by end of day friday. do not force us to take action by failing to comply

I feel I must act soon before they start sending me body parts -- maybe starting with the jug's cap.

ransomed milk carton

Thursday, August 23, 2007

It Escalates!

The note I left on the office fridge for the party responsible for drinking all my milk did not go unanswered.

My note from this morning:

The insidious answer posted surreptitiously:

What else can I do? Here's what I'm replying with:

*Editor's note: See what happened next.

My *almost* Cubicle Breakfast

THEFT! Theft in the office fridge.

In order to save time in the morning, I eat my breakfast cereal at work. This involves bringing in a supply of cereal, bananas, and (of course) milk every week. Some people jump start their day with coffee, some go to the gym. I eat.

But not this morning.

I arrived, booted up the computer, poured the cereal, cut up a banana. When I went to the communal refrigerator to get my milk ... horror! Nary a sign of the half gallon I bought on Monday. There was still a third of it left as of yesterday afternoon.

With some deductive work (or is it inductive?), I quickly scanned the kitchen to see a platter of brownies, cookies, and Rice Krispie treats that had probably been leftover from one of the department's dinner orders from the previous day. I instantly got an image of the folks in the _____ Department cavorting in their cubicles late at night throwing chocolate cookies in the air and letting them fall on their heads. Then someone says, "Hey! I know where there's some milk to go with these."

And here I am, hungry, with a bowl of dry cereal and browning banana slices.

I left a mean note on the fridge. Yeah. That'll show them.

*Editor's note: See what happened next.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Anatomy of a Green Curry

I'd almost say I'm getting tired of Thai food after having it twice since Friday. I'd almost say that, but I'd be lying, because ... c'mon ... Thai food.

My boss took me out to lunch as a post-birthday celebration, and we hit up our favorite Thai spot within driving distance of the office -- you know, aside from those other four. It's called Original Thai. After the amazing lunch I'd had on Friday (half the remains of which I'd eaten for my cubicle lunch yesterday) I felt compelled to compare apples to apples.

I ordered the two best things from my Friday meal: salad rolls and green curry. It's really weird; I used to think Original Thai was pretty good. I'm here to tell you that after being reacquainted with Takhrai in San Diego, OT just kind of ... sucks. Seeing as I've not found anything remarkable Thai-wise in the two years I've lived in LA, I guess my palate had been impressed by the bare minimum.

The rice paper on the salad rolls were overly sticky, which gave the impression of poorly made mochi. The lettuce inside was iceberg (cheap!), and the mint was probably a few days old. Contrast that with Takrai's lusciously fresh mint you could smell from inside the wrapping and what I think was bib lettuce, and the south rises again.

But it's the green curry that really set the restaurants apart.

Ingredients: Original Thai
Tofu; green beans; red bell pepper; bamboo shoots; old, brown Thai basil, a little coconut milk.

Ingredients: Takhrai Thai
Golden tofu; snap peas (fresh); baby corn; red bell peppers; green bell peppers; broccoli; cabbage; eggplant; copious coconut milk; a solid amount of spice; and amazingly fresh, delicate Thai basil.

Price difference for the two dishes, a couple bucks, and look at all they pack into Takhrai's plate. And I'll tell you this: they have a rocking produce distributor.

I wonder if 135 miles is within Takhrai's delivery zone ...

Monday, August 20, 2007

It was a long (*long*) birthday weekend with much feasting. I'll easily be bringing in my leftovers for lunch through the whole coming week.

Today's entree is Spicy Thai Basil from lunch at Takhrai Thai last Friday (the day I skipped work to go surfing all morning). It wasn't the best I've ever had at that restaurant ... disappointing, considering how good everything else there is. The chicken was overcooked and the sauce relied more on soy sauce and onions to flavor it than the basil and white wine that's probably used to thin the dish. Looks appetizing in my coffee mug under fluorescent office lights, yeah? I'll go back, but I'd skip this dish.

I am still craving the amazing fresh spring rolls we had there though -- laced with wonderfully aromatic mint that tasted like it was fresh-picked from my grandpa's lush garden in Ohio. They were served with some of the best peanut sauce I've had in a long time (and it was warmed for a nice touch). No chance of that dish making it to live again as leftovers.